A conversation over School Resource Officers (SROs) in Alexandria City Public Schools got heated on Wednesday night, as School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision renewing the bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the police department.
City Councilman Canek Aguirre brought up the subject at Wednesday’s joint budget meeting with the School Board.
“I was a little bit disappointed in how this Board chose to proceed with the SRO MOU,” Aguirre said at the meeting. “You don’t have to be (housed) in the building, frankly, to be able to show up during lunch or arrival or dismissal, which (is when) officers are engaging the students most, which is arrival, lunch, and dismissal. I think that we can create schedules for these officers where they still have an opportunity to show up during some of these times.”
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton asked that Council respect its recent 6-3 decision approving the SROs, with some modifications for them including receiving racial diversity training.
“My request and hope would be that out of respect for the discussions that we have had as a School Board, and for the process that we went through, even as a matter of trust to give us time to do what we said we would like to do, that you would not take away that resource at this time,” Alderton said. “I don’t think it would be a productive way to address the issue that I think we all want to address.”
According to the MOU, SROs have the authority to stop and “question students who may have information about criminal activity” on or off school property. If a student is being interviewed by an SRO school, a principal or their designee is required to be contacted immediately.
In October, parents, students and community advocacy representatives railed against SROs, and said they foster an inappropriate culture of prejudice against non-white students.
School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan asked that City Council stay in its lane.
“I’m just frankly baffled that we’re even having a discussion that we have identified through our school division leaders, that this is a resource that our students depend on, whether it be through soccer or life experiences or having relationships, and that we’re considering taking resources from the very kids that we plan to champion… I don’t understand it,” Nolan said. “I’m really concerned that we’re staying in our lanes, that we’re respecting the school board vote, and that we’re not stealing resources away that have been identified by the school leaders who really know the day-to-day work. I’m very concerned to hear that you’re considering taking away resources that we as a school board, we as school leaders, the students themselves and the teachers on the ground (say that) is something we need and want and helps us.”
City Councilman John Taylor Chapman said that, as a line item in the city’s budget, SROs fall within the purview of Council. The program is funded in the police department’s budget, and Chapman said that after the board’s renewal of the MOU that he was asked to eliminate funding for the ACPS program by members of the community.
“I’m very shocked to see that being questioned here,” Chapman said. “We are technically one half of this MOU, and by signing the MOU with our department we can have a say so on it through our city manager. I kind of find it odd that that’s being even questioned, especially if folks know the role of City Council and know the role of School Board.”
Chapman continued, “I just wanted to make sure that folks walk away from this meeting with that clarity, because it should not be something that we’re going to sit here and question what council’s role is and tell us we’re not in our lane, because we are in our lane.”